WATERFALL, a point in the course of a stream or river where the water descends perpendicularly or nearly so. Even a very small stream of water falling from any considerable height is a striking object in scenery. Such falls, of small volume though often of immense depth, are common, for a small stream has not the power to erode a steady slope, and thus at any considerable irregularity of level in its course it forms a fall. In many mountainous districts a stream may descend into the valley of the larger river to which it is tributary by way of a fall, its own valley having been eroded more slowly and less deeply than the main valley. Mechanical considerations apart, the usual cause of the occurrence of a waterfall is a sudden change in geological structure. For example, if there be three horizontal strata, so laid down that a hard stratum occurs between two soft ones, a river will be able to grade its course through the upper or lower soft strata, but not at the same rate through the intermediate hard stratum, over a ledge of which it will consequently fall. The same will occur if the course of the river has been interrupted by a hard barrier, such as an intrusive dyke of basalt, or by glacial or other deposits. Where a river falls over an escarpment of hard rock overlying softer strata, it powerfully erodes the soft rock at the base of the fall and may undermine the hard rock above so that this is broken away. In this way the river gradually cuts back the point of fall, and a gorge is left below the fall. The classic example of this process is provided by the most famous falls in the world Niagara.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)